5 Cult Leaders With Murderous Intentions

Not just anyone is capable of extreme brainwashing
Not just anyone is capable of extreme brainwashing

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A cult is a social group that is defined by its religious, spiritual or philosophical beliefs. Generally, a cult is considered a group with negative intentions. They have a leader who is charismatic and good at getting people to listen and follow. Although Scientology is officially considered a religion, many people categorize it as a cult because it coerces people into holding various beliefs based on a program of ideas called Dianetics, which is technically a complete work of fiction developed by leader L. Ron Hubbard.

The worst cult leaders aren’t interested in helping their followers and giving them a place to belong. They only want power and they’ll do anything they have to do get it—even commit murder. Here are 5 cult leaders who brainwashed, lied, and murdered their way to the top.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones grew up a social outcast who other kids considered “weird” because of his fascination with religion and death. He was interested in the writing of Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Karl Marx, and Gandhi and studied what he perceived to be their strengths and weaknesses as leaders. By the time he was 25, Jones had launched his own church which changed names a few times before it became the Peoples Temple. Although he used religion to recruit new members into following his Marxist and communist views, Jones reportedly claimed to be an atheist.

In 1977, Jones and seven hundred Temple members moved to a settlement in Guyana that he named “Jonestown”. After several Temple defectors began accusing Jones of abuse and substandard living conditions in the compound, Congressman Leo Ryan decided to investigate. On November 18, 1978, after an abrupt end to their Jonestown visit, Ryan and four other people were murdered by Temple members before they were able to board a plane. Back at the compound, 909—304 of them children—inhabitants of Jonestown died after drinking a mixture of cyanide and Flavor Aid.

A 45-minute recording of the mass murder/suicide in progress was found and Jones is heard coercing people to commit suicide with him saying “We didn’t commit suicide; we committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world.” Jones himself was found dead of a single, most likely self-inflicted, gunshot wound to the head.

David Koresh
David Koresh moved to Waco, Texas to join the Branch Davidians in 1982 when he was 23. In 1983, he claimed to have the gift of prophecy and started his bid to become the group’s next leader despite the fact that they already had a new leader in George Roden. Koresh lived off the compound for a few years while he built up his own loyal following but eventually he reclaimed the compound known as Mount Carmel Centre when Roden was convicted of murder and committed to a psychiatric hospital.

Allegations of child abuse and sexual abuse against Koresh were numerous but the evidence to make an arrest was never there. On February 28, 1993, ATF raided Mount Carmel Centre and the resulting gun battle killed four agents and six Branch Davidians. For 51 days, the standoff continued, now involving the FBI. On April 19, 1993, the U.S. Attorney General approved a final advance into the compound, but the building caught fire killing 79 Branch Davidians, 22 of them children. Koresh was found with a gunshot wound to the head and it still isn’t known whether he committed suicide or was murdered.

Shoko Asahara
The founder of murderous Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo, Shoko Asahara is known as the mastermind behind the 1995 sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway that killed 13 people and injured over 50 more. Partially blind since birth, Asahara became interested in religion when he was in his mid-twenties. He studied a range of religious concepts including Chinese astrology, Taoism, and esoteric Buddhism and Christianity. He registered Aum Shinrikyo with the government as a religious organization in 1986 and gained recognition by appearing on TV and in magazines. The doctrine of the group is based on Vajrayana scriptures, the Bible and other texts. In one of his many published books, Asahara declares himself “Christ”. His supposed mission was to take others’ sins upon himself and he claimed he could transfer his spiritual power to his followers.

Asahara often talked about a doomsday prophecy that involved a third World War and a nuclear Armageddon. He led a series of terrorist attacks including the sarin gas attack he was arrested for. He faced 27 counts of murder in 13 separate incidents including another gas attack that killed nine people and the brutal murder of the Sakamoto family. Asahara was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging, but his execution has been postponed as of 2012 following the arrests of several more Aum Shinrikyo members.

Marshall Applewhite
Along with Bonnie Nettles, Marshall Applewhite established Heaven’s Gate, a religious group that believed aliens would come one day to provide them with new bodies. Applewhite and Nettles communicated their ideas using language drawn from Christian eschatology (the study of ‘end things’), the New Age movement and pop culture. Applewhite believe in the “ancient astronaut” hypothesis that claimed extraterrestrials had visited humanity before and placed humans on Earth so they could return later and collect a select few. He also claimed aliens communicated with him through the show Star Trek.

Applewhite believed he and his followers would eventually be able to reach a higher level of being and even change into a different species. The group kept a low profile until October 1996 when they heard about the approach of Comet Hale-Bopp. They believed it was their chance to “evacuate Earth”. Members began committing suicide in March 1997, all of them wearing the same outfit and patches that read “Heaven’s Gate Away Team”. A total of 39 people, including Applewhite, committed suicide over three days making it the largest group suicide of U.S. citizens since Jonestown.

Charles Manson
Charles Manson often falls under the label of serial killer, but in reality he was more of a cult leader. He built a following based on what he called “Helter Skelter”, an impending apocalyptic race war he wanted to help precipitate. His followers were known as the Manson Family and a number of them were involved in the infamous murders of Sharon Tate, Abigail Folger, Wojciech Frykowski, Steven Parent, Jay Sebring, and Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.

Manson was often described as being very charming and persuasive. He brainwashed his followers into killing for him by portraying himself as an all-powerful, messiah-like figure and convincing them that they were part of a superior elite. The people Manson took under his wing were already vulnerable and he took care of their basics needs—food, shelter and companionship—so eventually they felt like they needed him and they were willing to commit murder as an act of loyalty. They wanted to be part of something bigger and unfortunately for them they met Charles Manson, a man who had nothing but evil intentions.

Courtney Hardwick

Courtney Hardwick

Courtney Hardwick is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared on AmongMen.com, 29secrets.com, therichest.com, and ELLECanada.com.  When she isn’t writing about relationships, and the best TV shows and books you should really already know about, she is working on her novel. She hopes to have it published by 2025. You can follow her on Twitter @Courtooo.

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